Prescription Drug Abuse

Taking prescription drugs not prescribed for you by a doctor or in a way that hasn’t been recommended by a doctor, can be more dangerous than you think.  In fact, it can be fatal.

Prescription drug abuse increased significantly in recent years. Statistics and trends demonstrate that the rates of prescription drug abuse and overdose continues to climb, in spite of efforts to slow and prevent the abuse of prescription drugs.

The devastating effects of prescription drug abuse affects more than just the abuser or addict. Entire families suffer when a family member abuses prescription drugs.

As abuse and addiction to prescription drugs continues to affect millions of individuals across the country, the U.S. Government announced efforts and began implementing measures to address the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Learn more about prescription drug abuse, the difference between misuse and abuse, the costs of prescription drug abuse and efforts to combat the non-medical use and abuse of prescription drugs.

Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs

Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs are both very dangerous, even life-threatening. However, the two are not the same. An important aspect of determining whether a person misuses or abuses a prescription drug depends on intent. When a person experiences pain not relieved by taking the prescribed dose of a prescription drug or if an individual experiences symptoms before time for the next dose of medication, those individuals may potentially misuse prescription drugs. Another person on the same medication may potentially abuse that same medication. The difference is the fact that the person abusing the medication intentionally takes it to get high.

Consider these examples of prescription drug misuse:

Prescription drug abuse, on the other hand, occurs when an individual exhibits clear intent to get high, such as these examples provided by MedlinePlus, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. National Library of Medicine:

It makes no difference whether the prescribed medication is anti-anxiety medications, opioid pain medications or some other prescription. In fact, MedlinePlus reveals information from HealthDay News indicating that some addicts actually take diarrhea medication to get high, as an alternative to prescription opioid pain medications, according to researchers. Study author William Eggleston explains, “People looking for either self-treatment of withdrawal symptoms or euphoria are overdosing on loperamide with sometimes deadly consequences.”

Prescription drug abuse: Epidemic across the United States

The National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported, “According to results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time within the past year…” The rates of prescription drug abuse rose so quickly that when stating that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year on record.” The rate of death from overdoses increased among all races, nearly every adult age group and for both men and women.

While not the only cause of prescription overdose deaths, the CDC explained that nearly three of every five overdose deaths involved an opioid pain medication. Prescription opioid abuse remains the driving force behind all drug overdoses in the country. The graph provided in the White House Summit on the Opioid Epidemic reveals the surge in prescription opioids, giving a clear picture of the recent surge.

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, along with stimulants, also contribute to prescription drug overdose, however, at a lesser degree than opioids. Drug abuse rates often increase for those with underlying mental health conditions such as BPD.

Prescription opioid abuse

The CDC analyzed data regarding opioid overdose, including the synthetic opioid Fentanyl. The staggering results included:

Prescription drug abuse rates increased more in recent years in some states than others. Healthy Americans points out that prescription drug abuse caused more deaths in 29 states and Washington D.C. than motor vehicle accidents. Healthy Americans clearly demonstrates the increase in those areas with maps showing the mortality rates per 100,000 people in 1999 and in 2010. Reviewing the list, by state, of drug overdose rates from 1979 to 2010, reveals that the rate soared by as much as more than 1000 per cent from 1979 through 2010 and as much as over 600 per cent from 1999 to 2010.

Additionally, prescription drug abuse frequently leads to use of and addiction to heroin. NIDA indicates that research supports the fact that abuse of opioids leads to heroin by saying, “Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin.”

Costs of prescription drug abuse

The cost of prescription drug abuse is staggering. Abuse of prescription drugs affects young adults at a higher rate than other age groups, resulting in higher costs associated with prescription drug abuse, supported by a NIDA infographic. One important point of the infographic is that among young adults from age 18 through age 24, for every death due to prescription drug overdose, there were 119 emergency room visits and 22 treatment admissions. These statistics include young adults abusing prescription opioids, ADHD stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs.

Healthy American points out the staggering effect of the cost of abuse of prescription pain medications on the U.S. economy, indicating “A 2011 study estimated that in 2006, non-medical use of prescription painkillers imposed a cost of about $53.4 billion on the U.S. economy — including $42 billion in lost productivity, $8.2 billion in increased criminal justice costs, $2.2 billion for drug abuse treatment, and $944 million in medical complications.” Fraudulent purchases by consumers who frequently go doctor-shopping and physicians who over-prescribe prescription drugs also contribute to the soaring costs of prescription drug abuse across the country.

Efforts to prevent and curb prescription drug abuse

Several government agencies recently took action to create and implement measures to prevent and curb prescription drug abuse. Developing strategies and implementing measures to reduce prescription drug abuse is a high priority for several agencies, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the CDC.

In February 2016, Michael Botticelli, ONDCP Director, announced a proposal by President Barack Obama to invest $1.1 billion in the FY 2017 budget to address the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic.

The proposal specifically:

This effort follows a 2015 meeting of delegates from across the U.S., who convened to discuss and take action to address the issue of prescription drug abuse, particularly opioids. In stressing the fact that addressing the epidemic is a top priority for the HHS, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell stated, “The opioid epidemic knows no boundaries; it touches lives in cities, rural counties and suburban neighborhoods across the country.”

Additional Sources